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Democrats, White House Unite at the Cliff

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid makes his way to the Senate floor after a Monday news conference on the potential government shutdown.

The Obama White House and congressional Democrats headed into the shutdown smackdown Monday night united around Harry Reid’s hardball strategy: no more concessions on the continuing resolution. And no caving on the debt ceiling, either.

The Senate majority leader and other top Democrats have had their issues with the White House in the past — never more so than in the fiscal-cliff deal negotiated by Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., which many Democrats felt gave away the store on taxes without reaching a long-term deal on spending.

Not this time, they say with a united voice.

Democrats and the White House could have dug in, too — as House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland had floated — by demanding more spending than the $986 billion sequester level proposed by the GOP. But the heart of the Reid-White House strategy has been to ask for nothing and try to force Republicans to own a shutdown if it happens. They didn’t demand any new riders or new spending.

They accepted the House’s spending level, even though Democrats preferred the $1.058 trillion pre-sequester target called for in the 2011 Budget Control Act. They agreed to a separate House bill to make sure troops continue to get paid. On the rest of the CR, it’s “clean” or bust.

It’s a strategy that helped Reid line up all 54 senators in his caucus and eventually brought along House Democrats, including Hoyer.

By Monday afternoon, the Democratic mantra was that the Senate’s “clean” CR would pass easily on the House floor — relying on Democratic votes — if only Speaker John A. Boehner would bring it up for a vote.

“If John Boehner blocks this, it would be forcing a government shutdown. And it would be a Republican government shutdown, pure and simple. ... The votes are there to pass a clean CR,” Reid said.

Republicans have been directing their ire in every direction, including at each other, given that many have said shutting down the government over Obamacare is a plan sure to fail.

The easy GOP attack was to slam the president for not bringing the leaders together for a negotiation — especially considering that he had chatted and entertained talks with the president of Iran a few days before.

While Obama said Monday he would speak to congressional leaders, there have been no real talks for weeks and none at the White House.

“He seems absolutely allergic to doing his job,” Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, said on the Senate floor, complaining that the president was missing in action.

Rep. Michael C. Burgess, R-Texas, complained that the Senate was not compromising on Obamacare.

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